What Is Ashwagandha?

what is ashwagandha

Ever feel like you’re sleepwalking through life? You’re not alone! It’s time for America to wake up to the reality that there’s a sleep crisis happening. But sleep doesn’t have to be a rare commodity. A medicinal herb called ashwagandha can help you get the sleep you need. 

According to the CDC, 35% of U.S. adults get less than 7 hours of sleep per night and women have 40% greater risk than men of developing insomnia during their lifetimes. Some health consequences related to lack of sleep are also more pronounced in women due to the different influence of male and female sex hormones on the brain and body. Risk of developing chronic inflammation, hypertension, and obesity is greater in women and women also report having more difficulty functioning and increased impulsivity after a night of poor sleep.

Ashwagandha may offer the sleep-restoring help you’re looking for. Known widely for its gentle, nerve-calming effects, this time-honored medicinal herb has been a mainstay of Ayurvedic medicine for millennia. Known in herbal medicine as an adaptogen, a substance that maintains balance and homeostasis by modulating the stress response ashwagandha has several distinct effects on the body that promote healthy, restful sleep.

Lowers Cortisol

One of the ways ashwagandha improves sleep is by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of this adrenal gland hormone keep you in a heightened state of anxiety, alertness, and vigilance, making it harder to wind down and prepare for sleep and also leading to poor quality sleep.

In a randomized clinical trial, supplementation with ashwagandha for 8 weeks markedly reduced participants’ cortisol and perceived stress levels and improved their sleep quality. Additionally, the study, which compared low (250mg) and high (600mg) doses, found that the higher dose, while resulting in similar degrees of anxiety reduction, had a significantly greater effect on improving sleep.

Helps You Get to Sleep Faster

During sleep your brain cycles through three non-REM stages and one REM phase, all of which are required for healthy sleep. Reduction in non-REM sleep leads to poor sleep quality and has been associated with increased risk for cognitive decline. According to a preliminary study, a compound in ashwagandha called triethylene glycol may help induce sleep by facilitating non-REM stage 1, the earliest stage when you transition from wakefulness to sleep. In the study, triethylene glycol increased the overall time spent in non-REM sleep and reduced sleep latency – the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Improves Sleep Quality

Having good quality sleep means getting to sleep quickly, getting sufficient hours of sleep, not waking up multiple times, and waking up feeling refreshed and energized in the morning. Supplementation with ashwagandha checks all of those boxes and has been found to dramatically improve sleep quality by 72% in individuals with sleep difficulties.

Increases Activity of Brain-Calming Chemicals

Ashwagandha activates receptors for GABA, one of the brain’s most important calming and anxiety-reducing neurotransmitters. Certain types of GABA receptors are known to have sleep-inducing effects and ashwagandha is selective for those.

Ashwagandha also increases levels of serotonin, another powerful mood-stabilizing brain chemical. Serotonin is known for its ability to prevent and reduce symptoms of depression and in 75% of patients diagnosed with the condition insomnia and poor sleep quality are either a cause or a consequence.

Improves Menopause-Related Insomnia

Up to 42% of women going through perimenopause describe difficulty sleeping as one of their symptoms. Menopause-related insomnia arises from a few main causative factors:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats can cause a woman to wake up multiple times throughout the night.
  • Depression and anxiety that often accompany this turbulent time can impair sleep.
  • Hormonal shifts impact the central nervous system in ways that impair its ability to control the sleep-wake cycle.

As a woman progresses from early to later stages of perimenopause, insomnia tends to increase in severity. These symptoms often lead doctors to prescribe antidepressant drugs; however, antidepressants have a range of undesirable side effects and can further impair sleep by inhibiting REM cycles.

Ashwagandha may be a safe alternative to some pharmaceuticals, according to a recent clinical trial in menopausal women ages 45-60 years. Supplementation with ashwagandha significantly improved sleep quality and participants also reported fewer and less severe hot flashes and night sweats; and reduced anxiety, irritability, and depression. No adverse side effects were reported.

Safety Considerations

While ashwagandha is generally safe when used in established doses or as directed by a knowledgeable healthcare professional, certain precautions should be noted. Consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine whether ashwaganda is an option for you to consider.


If you are looking to incorporate ashwagandha to help improve your sleep, supplements such as Mia Vita Sleep provide a great and safe option.

About the author
FemmePharma started as a pharmaceutical research and development company more than 20 years ago. We’ve been reinventing women’s healthcare ever since. Please consult your healthcare practitioner to decide which product best meets your needs.

Filed under: Stress & Anxiety, Your Mind